The Genius Plague

My review copies of David Walton's quantum physics murder mysteries Superposition and Supersymmetry have been sitting on my "books to read" pile for a long, long time. I've always known that I'll get to them at some point, but there's always another novel/series that gets in the way. Still, when Pyr sent me an advance reading copy of The Genius Plague, the premise immediately piqued my curiosity and I knew that I wouldn't wait forever to read this one. I scheduled things so that my review would go up around its pub date and here it is!

Let's be honest. The cover art is absolutely atrocious and likely won't attract potential readers' attention. Which is a shame, for this science fiction thriller is one of my favorite reads of 2017!

Here's the blurb:


In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

The bulk of this novel takes place in Brazil and the Amazon rainforest, as well as in and around the National Security Agency compound in Maryland, and the Washington, D.C. area. Other than the presence of the intelligent fungus and everything that it engenders, The Genius Plague reads like an ordinary thriller. The best thing about this book is that it's not hard science fiction per se. David Walton did a wonderful job explaining the science and the concepts involved without dumbing down the plot. The author also managed to avoid the pitfall of peppering the narrative with info-dumps that would have killed its momentum. The result is a compelling science fiction thriller. With its relatively short chapters, The Genius Plague is a real page-turner.

As the blurb implies, brothers Neil and Paul Johns take center stage. Their father is battling with Alzheimer's disease, and the sad repercussions this has on the entire family touches the story in a myriad ways. The scenes involving Neil, his mother, and his father's memory loss are emotional and occasionally gut-wrenching. Like Neil, readers find out that the life of a cryptologist working at the NSA certainly isn't all that's cracked up to be. As interesting and three-dimensional as the two brothers turned out to be, there's no denying that it's the supporting cast that makes this novel such a memorable read. Indeed, it would never have been the same without the presence of characters such as Shaunessy Brennan, Melody Muniz, and Andrew.

One of my favorite facets of this book is that there are no true villains. Mother Nature can be unpredictable and scary. The fungus does what it feels is required to ensure its own survival. There are no definite plans behind its actions and the aftereffects of the plague on the human brain of its hosts are always unexpected and shocking. With The Genius Plague, David Walton keeps readers on the edge of their seats and you never know what's going to happen next.

The science fiction elements notwithstanding, The Genius Plague was meant to be a thriller and for it to work it must read like one. Short chapters ending with startling cliffhangers create a page-turning pace that makes this novel hard to put down. This is the kind of work that you go through in just a few sittings.

Intelligent, touching, and captivating, David Walton's environmentally consciousThe Genius Plague is a joyride from beginning to end! Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

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